Lourdes Regional basketball player Thomas Schultz taught a valuable lesson to Mount Carmel pitcher Thomas Schultz last year.
When the Red Raiders played in the 2018 Class A state championship game, it extended basketball season to within five days of the Red Tornadoes' season opener.
Schultz, with so little time to condition his right arm for the stress of throwing breaking balls, spent the first week or so feeding opponents nothing but fastballs.
"They would sit on the fastball and basically swing as soon as it left my hand," he recalled. "It's a credit to their coach if they see that's what I'm doing. Luckily, I threw hard enough that I didn't get hurt too much by it at the beginning. But seeing guys pull mid-80s (fastballs) over the third-base fence, you know they're not that early (on the pitch). They're just swinging right away."
So Schultz the pitcher prepared throughout the fall and winter — while Schultz the basketball player topped 2,000 points and became Lourdes' career scoring leader — to be ready for opening day. On March 30, with a chill in the air at Loyalsock Township, he allowed one unearned run on two hits and struck out four over four innings of a 9-5 victory.
"Even starting the first game in the cold, I could throw my off-speed pitches and also command the fastball better than in other years, and that kept them off-balance," said Schultz. "Being able to throw three other pitches, basically in any count, helped diminish their mental game to just look fastball."
That outing kicked off the tall right-hander's final high school season, which became the best prep campaign for a blue-chip recruit who pledged to play at national powerhouse Vanderbilt in April of his freshman year.
Schultz went 7-2 with an 0.58 ERA to help Mount Carmel set the school record with 18 wins. He struck out 74 and walked just 12 while allowing 28 hits in 48 innings. He started five games and completed two, with a one-hit shutout against district quarterfinalist Hughesville. Opponents managed a .164 batting average against him.
All those numbers (with the exception of walks; he issued nine as a junior) bested the stats that made him the Daily Item Baseball Player of the Year a season ago. Schultz was a repeat honoree this year.
"He was great both years, but I really think him throwing sooner and being able to throw his off-speed pitches more consistently throughout the season was key," said Red Tornadoes coach Brenton Eades. "Statistically, he was head and shoulders the best I've seen in this year — not only on the mound, but how good a hitter he was."
Oh, right. Schultz was also a monster at the plate, hitting a team-best .407 (33-for-81) with 30 RBIs and 28 runs scored. He drilled seven doubles and a home run, forging a .530 slugging percentage to go with his .478 on-base clip. He struck out just four times in 92 plate appearances, with none in his first 16 games.
Schultz had multiple hits in half the Red Tornadoes' 22 games, and three or more RBIs in five of them. He finished his career with 101 hits, the only player in Mount Carmel history to eclipse the 100-hit mark.
"I always tried to show the love for the game I have," he said. "It is a game and I've always had fun playing. You can't worry about numbers. If you play with a love for the game, that will take care of itself."
The Red Tornadoes had an improvement of at least three victories in each of Schultz's varsity seasons, from 11 in his sophomore year to 14 as a junior to 18, which broke the 1987 school record. Schultz had a career mark of 18-11 with a 1.75 ERA and 225 strikeouts in 164.1 innings. He also hit .366 (101-for-276) with 62 RBIs and 59 runs scored in his career.
"People say, 'You guys are still going to be pretty good; you've got a lot of talent back,' and we do, but you're not going to replace a kid like him. You just don't," said Eades. "He's a great player — he may go down as the best player in Mount Carmel history — so you don't replace him. You just patch-work things together to get as close as you can ... and theoretically you may never replace him."
Coach of the Year
Brent Beiler recalled when he first began asking his Selinsgrove players to write down team goals before each season in a coaching career that spans nearly two decades. He would invariably receive the pie-in-the-sky response of "state championship" by several Seals.
Ironically, that wasn't the case this year.
"They said, 'Let's win the first game. Let's win 10 games, to make the playoffs. And they said, then district champs,'" said Beiler. "The state level wasn't even in the picture, and that's kudos to them because they had to accomplish (the core goals) before they could move on."
Belier recounted that story at Penn State's Medlar Field not even an hour after Selinsgrove won the Class 4A state championship with a 7-4 victory over Beaver Area.
The Seals checked off each of their goals and more (the Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I title was a welcome addition), becoming the school's first state champion team since football a decade earlier.
A 20-5 record was bookended by two six-game winning streaks, including a postseason sweep of district and state crowns, and improved Beiler's 18-year record to 198-181.